Meditations on Labor Day & a Poem: Ex Uno Plures

Adjuncting can have a way of demolishing one’s sense of self-worth, particularly if we begin to see ourselves not as individual scholars and teachers in pursuit of higher ideals but instead as interchangeable parts of an uncaring machine. We are all pieces of a larger whole, but, to borrow again from The Wire, “all the pieces matter.” The road to remembering myself as my own separate piece rather than one that is merely “adjunct” has been a difficult one, one that I could not have undertaken without the support of friends and family and an online community who saw the value in me that others did not and that, at times, I did not see in myself. I’ve rediscovered the joy I once felt in writing, and though the future is still uncertain, I have faith that it can be made better, if I may echo the sentiments of Josh Boldt. However, regardless of what vocation I transition to in this alt-ac/post-ac phase of my life – and my financial circumstances being what they are, “vocation” is a lofty term for what may end up being a stint, brief or lengthy, in food service – I still see myself as part of the academic and civil conversation, and I plan to make my voice known, not in the careerist hopes that my credentials will save me, but out of a sincere desire to see that the world my daughter inherits will be a better one than it is today. Progress is not inevitable; it is an unglamorous, tiring struggle, and our actions in service to this ideal often go unrewarded, even ridiculed. But there is work that one does for survival, and there is work that one does for purpose: as scholars, we do the former so that we can do the latter, and it is only in losing sight of the grander design – or in arguing that there is none, or none of any consequence, at any rate – that our lives become drudgery.

As an ex-adjunct with few allies in an outlier state where workers’ rights are routinely dismissed both inside and outside of academia, I have wondered if my efforts truly are futile, and perhaps they are. Perhaps there can be no change here; perhaps the power structures are too entrenched. In that regard, all I can say is that I must follow my own interests, my own beliefs; suppressing them has never done me any favors. And if I err, then I err.

Adjunctification is a problem, and I am a writer. The cardinal precept for a writer is to write what one knows, and though there is the temptation to steer clear of these troubling shoals, a writer must speak his truth, and I must speak mine. I am glad to see so many others that have done the same.

One of the earliest articles that I read in regards to adjunctification was this one, a transcript of the remarks of Noam Chomsky. I’ve long admired him for his work as a public intellectual; one of the proudest moments of my life is his response to a poem and a short message of thanks (for his support of adjuncts) that I once emailed him. There are academics who write about social issues only as a means to the end of tenure, and then there are academics like Prof. Chomsky, who work to alleviate as well as to educate. It should go without saying that his is the model that I wish more academics would seek to emulate.

I’m no longer an adjunct, but I still feel like one. The pain is still with me. Josh Boldt wonders if former adjuncts can or should keep talking about these issues, and while others may have their own opinions, I feel that I echo the sentiments of Bill Lipkin and Vanessa Vaile in saying that as long as any of us have the time, energy, and inclination to take part in this fight, we should continue to do so.

In closing, a poem, dedicated to adjuncts both former and present, and to all those who feel that their efforts may, in the end, amount to nothing:

Ex Uno Plures

Before the universe, humans appear so small,
anchored to a single, solitary solid.
Our Earth, among the countless planets, is but one,
but mark this, that in outer space there are many,
and space, without planets, would be just that, a loose
mass of nothing; therefore, the small defines the great.

And what of Earth, that imagination makes great?
It, too, could not be, without the basic, the small,
grains of the finest sand, scattered by the winds, loose,
are founding stones, by which mountains are made solid,
thus, one can again see how out of the many
a colossus can rise, united by the one.

Even the greater part, the Earth’s ocean, is one
more example of the minuscule being great;
the high clouds above unleash torrents, the many
drops of cloud-born rain, individually small,
become the waves that to ships feel hammer-solid
cracking hulls, drowning sailors in the sea so loose.

Dying lungs convert O² to CO², loose
nostrils let in poison molecules, one by one,
H²O, two atoms dancing with a third, solid
bonds, covalent, unbroken by heat or cold, great
structures, oceans, worlds, all rely on atoms small
working together as one, they that are many.

Atoms, the root of all things, these untold many,
can themselves be split, dissected; they, too, are loose.
Horrific, Holocaustic power condensed small;
what lunatic prophet could have foreseen how one
infinitesimal proton could hold such great
force, rendering into ash cities once solid.

But not even sub-atoms are truly solid,
protons are divisible, containing many
nigh imaginary particles, quarks (What great
hippie-ish names!), strangely charming how fast and loose
scientists, creating an arbitrary one
when undoubtedly there is something still more small.

Thus, all that appears solid is in reality loose,
formed from many disparate elements to create one;
nothing great can exist without the presence of the small.

Always, there comes a time when beliefs are too great
to be held within one mind and must be set loose,
disseminated widely among the many.
But always, the vision arises from the one,
declarations, manifestoes, theses, solid
when spread by press but born of pen, and will, so small.

From the most modest beginnings, a seed so small,
springs an Yggdrasil, roots spreading from low to great,
capable of cracking any foundation, regardless how solid.
Though the soil of such a grand tree may be loose,
shifting, it shifts not the peopled mass from its one
unswerving goal; beware the might of the many.

And when the human many become too many
to count, too many to fight, making law seem small
by comparison, making a new law, the one
unified at last from the vast many, the great
mass, majority’s might replaces right, their loose
dreams of self survive by group fiat, iron-solid.

But day supplants hour, year supplants day, the solid,
ruthless progression of time transforms the many
once more into the bickering, paranoid loose.
An anxious mob adores a scapegoat, someone small
who can be bullied by the all-powerful great,
become a faceless number, a cowed, beaten one.

A single voice crying oppression sways no one,
but the grasping mass grows discontent with solid
supremacy over the rebellious one; great
is the sweet cruel feeling of being the many,
but far too sublime to be divided too small:
autocratic urge, absorb all power once loose.

All depends on this new self-righteous mob, let loose
to assail the gilt gates of empty privilege, one
incoherent susurrus, but born of the small
voice that cried with hushed eloquence, tears made solid,
the pebble that spurs the avalanche of many
voices discontent, and the low topple the great.

We the people, we the loose, unformed, can become solid,
the will of the one can become the will of the many:
it takes something small as a vote to build anything great.


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